I have been reading two very different books by two absurdly different people who do have one extraordinary thing in common. They are old. And the subject of each book is the world according to them. Two things in common, then.
The first is called Godseekers by Rabbi Lionel Blue. The second is called, spookily enough, The World According to Joan by Joan Collins. I don't quite know how old Lionel is but he must be over 80. Joan is, I think, 78. I have been reading eagerly to see what they have to say about life, age and themselves and whether I can prepare myself for the day I wake up and turn either 78 or 80. Here is what I have learned.
- Joan can't help being the way she is. She has always been this way and is lucky to have wonderful skin and a superb figure.
- Joan works hard to maintain her looks and it is a shame that other people let themselves go and become ugly and old.
- Lionel is full of fun and advice for those who are in difficulties with their lives. He was, he says, a dreadful bore when he was younger and deeply unnattractive.
- Lionel says that a sense of humour is vital to get one by and that God has a finely developed one. Life when you are young can be terribly earnest, and a good way to lighten up and see things from a different perspective is to laugh at yourself.
- Joan is outraged at how badly everyone dresses, behaves, thinks and is these days.
- Lionel says he enjoyes the company of his friends and is grateful.
- Joan thinks that if everyone was a bit more like her she wouldn't have to complain so much.
Recently, Olivia Fane (On Loving Josiah, her new book and worth getting) asked me how I was getting on. Oh, you know, I said. Feeling tired and frumpy. Haaa! said Olivia, I know what you mean. I am spending my days at the moment watching my body become older and feeling my youth drain away. I am preparing, said Olivia, to be old. And if Olivia is doing that then you can bet your bottom dollar that she is doing it with gusto. Olivia has no vanity at all. She does not care a jot whether she is old or young, whether she is well dressed or not. She is so eccentric, so cerebral and so funny that she is a tonic to be with, and always takes a slightly sideways look at life and has absolutely no intention of behaving well for anyone.
I am feeling tired and frumpy. I have watched myself pare away at my busy schedule so that often now, I am sitting alone in the afternoons, with nothing much to do. I have been sleeping more and have stopped fussing about doing as much as possible Now because I ought to and am left with, well, not much. Time, a bit of silence, a feeling of weariness and some more time. And of course, the world has not come to an end. None of the kids are dead from starvation. The house seems to be ticking along without being hoovered and we all have quite clean clothes to wear, much of the time. All that needs to be done is done, and I am quite enjoying the sitting alone in the afternoon with nothing much to do. I have taken to having a nap. I am finding that I am longing to snooze in the afternoons and go to bed early. I say to myself, Lie down on that sofa, in the sunshine, and have a little think about things. Go on, and later, if you feel like it, you can see if you need to do an email. Don't mind if I do, I say in reply to myself, and within minutes I am drifting off into that delightful half way land between sleep and waking where all things are possible and Joan doesn't mind if you tell her she ought to be a Marxist like Lionel was once.
Getting older has been very much on my mind these last months. I am 51. Oh, I hear you cry, like Joan, you don't look your age. Well, thank you kind people. Fact is, I do look it. I see my face and sometimes when I can bear to look, I see my body. I am never going to be smooth again, if I want to be firm I will have to do as Joan does, and jolly well make the effort. There are lines on my eyelids, there are deep lines from the corners of my nose to the corners of my mouth, and if I don't go every six weeks to the hairdressers I would look like Gandalf. My fingers look like chicken bones, my neck has those double parallel vertical lines from under my chin to my collar bone, and oh this is something Joan avoids by painting her lipstick on with glue and giving herself a bigger pair of lips than she actually has, my lipstick bleeds along dozens of teeny lines around my mouth.
I don't mind all the above so very much. With determination, I can still scrub up pretty well and once at a gathering of people, being an extrovert I can have a laugh. What I do mind is that I am much slower, tireder and more forgetful. I seem to sigh as I get up from my chair and lope off to wherever I am going, stop half way, wondering why I am there and gratefully lope back again to the chair where I sit back down again with a second sigh. This intrigues me. What happened to the zappy 50 year old? When I wake up in the morning now, I think that what I would like to wear more than anything else is a blanket and slippers. Once, when I was 50 and younger, I would select fancy clothes and colours and feel Yes! Bring it on! Now I think, wonder if anyone will notice if I wear my duvet all day and if I pass the sitting room, wonder if I can have a lie down before I do anything else?
I read Joan with interest. It is important to her that one doesn't let one's standards drop. It is important to make the most of yourself and to stay healthy and fit. Quite right. I read Lionel with interest too. It is important to him that your God is accessible and that you can tell your God off when you are fed up. To Lionel, life is hard but there is a way to cope and kindness to ourselves and each other is fundamental. Miracles are possible in the strangest of places, and to Lionel, people need their miracles. Joan looks a million dollars for her age, but seems unkind, competitive and intolerant. Lionel looks like the back of a bus but is wise, loving, humourous and kind.
Still, it would be nice to look like Joan and be like Lionel. Perhaps that is the plan for being 52. Until then, until the feeling passes, I will get back into my duvet, compare notes with Olivia, and have another snooze in the sunshine. Bliss.
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